Scottish Episcopal Church

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Religious movements, traditions and organizations

The Scottish Episcopal Church ( Scottish Gaelic: Eaglais Easbaigeach na h-Alba) is a Christian denomination in Scotland and a member of the Anglican Communion. It consists of seven dioceses in Scotland. Like all Anglican churches, it recognizes the primacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who does not however have any formal authority in Scotland. It has enjoyed a distinct identity since the 17th century. The current Primus is the Most Reverend Idris Jones who became Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church on 16 May 2006.

Official name

The Scottish Episcopal Church ( Scottish Gaelic: Eaglais Easbaigeach na h-Alba) was previously called the Episcopal Church in Scotland, reflecting its role as the Scottish province of the Anglican Communion.

This church may rarely be referred to colloquially (or pejoratively) in Scotland as the English Church or English Kirk, but this is inaccurate and many members of the church find this term offensive. Although not incorporated until 1712, the Scottish Episcopal Church can trace its origins to well before the Acts of Union 1707 with England. It is a thoroughly Scottish institution both in terms of its history and its modern character.


The history of Christianity in Scotland begins in ancient times. The Scottish Episcopal Church today is a Christian denomination in Scotland and a member of the Anglican Communion. It has enjoyed a distinct identity and is neither Roman nor English. It is therefore not a Daughter Church in the Anglican communion.

Origins of Christianity in Scotland

In 563 St Columba travelled to Scotland with twelve companions, where according to his legend he first landed at the southern tip of the Kintyre peninsula, near Southend. However, being still in sight of his native land he moved further north up the west coast of Scotland. He was granted land on the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland which became the centre of his evangelising mission to the Picts. However, there is a sense in which he was not leaving his native people, as the Irish Gaels had been colonizing the west coast of Scotland for the previous couple of hundred years. Aside from the services he provided guiding the only centre of literacy in the region, his reputation as a holy man led to his role as a diplomat among the tribes; there are also many stories of miracles which he performed during his work to convert the Picts. He visited the pagan king Bridei, king of Fortriu, at his base in Inverness, winning the king's respect. He subsequently played a major role in the politics of the country. He was also very energetic in his evangelical work, and, in addition to founding several churches in the Hebrides, he worked to turn his monastery at Iona into a school for missionaries. He was a renowned man of letters, having written several hymns and being credited with having transcribed 300 books personally. He died on Iona and was buried in the abbey he created.

The Scottish church would continue to grow in the centuries that followed. It was not until the 11th century, that St Margaret (Queen Consort of Malcolm III of Scotland) would strengthen the church's ties with the Roman Catholic Church and bring Scottish Christians into full communion with that church.


The Scottish Reformation was touched off in 1560. At that point, the church in Scotland broke with Rome, in a process of Protestant reform led, among others, by John Knox. It reformed its doctrines and government, drawing on the principles of John Calvin which Knox had been exposed to while living in Switzerland. In 1560, the Scottish Parliament abolished papal jurisdiction and approved Calvin's Confession of Faith, but did not accept many of the principles laid out in Knox's First Book of Discipline, which argued, amongst other things, that all of the assets of the old church should pass to the new. The 1560 Reformation Settlement was not ratified by the crown for some years, and the question of church government also remained unresolved. In 1572 the acts of 1560 were finally approved by the young James VI, but the Concordat of Leith also allowed the crown to appoint bishops with the church's approval. John Knox himself had no clear views on the office of bishop, preferring to see them renamed as 'superintendents'; but in response to the new Concordat a Presbyterian party emerged headed by Andrew Melville, the author of the Second Book of Discipline.

The Scottish Episcopal Church had its origins in 1582 when the Church of Scotland, rejected episcopal government (by bishops), and adopted full presbyterian government (by elders) and reformed theology. Scottish monarchs made repeated efforts to introduce bishops, and two church traditions began.

Episcopal government maintained

Portrait of James VI by John de Critz, circa 1606
Portrait of James VI by John de Critz, circa 1606

In 1584 James VI of Scotland had the Parliament of Scotland pass the Black Acts bringing the Kirk under royal control with two bishops. This met vigorous opposition and he was forced to concede that the General Assembly should continue to run the church, but Calvinists reacting against the formal liturgy were opposed by an Episcopalian faction. After acceding to the English throne in 1603 James stopped the General Assembly from meeting, then increased the number of Scottish Bishops and in 1618 held a General Assembly and pushed through Five Articles of Episcopalian practices which were widely boycotted. His son Charles I was crowned in Holyrood Abbey, Edinburgh, in 1633 with full Anglican rites. Subsequently, in 1637, Charles attempted to introduce a version of the Book of Common Prayer, written by Archishop Laud (and which in part derived from the first of Cranmer's reformation books and was thus more likely to offend the Calvinistic Scots). When this was used in the King's presence in St. Giles, Edinburgh, it set off a revolt which became so uncontainable that it led to the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, beginning with the Bishops Wars and developing into the English Civil War.

On the refusal of the bishops to recognize William II (1689), the Presbyterian polity was finally re-established in the Church of Scotland. However, the Comprehension Act of 1690 allowed episcopalian incumbents, on taking the Oath of Allegiance, to retain their benefices, though excluding them from any share in the government of the Church of Scotland without a further declaration of presbyterian principles. Many ' non-jurors' also succeeded for a time in retaining the use of the parish churches.

The excluded bishops were slow to organize the episcopalian remnant under a jurisdiction independent of the state, regarding the then arrangements as provisional, and looking forward to a reconstituted national episcopal Church under a 'legitimate' sovereign (see Jacobitism). A few prelates, known as college bishops, were consecrated without sees, to preserve the succession rather than to exercise a defined authority. But at length the hopelessness of the Stuart cause and the growth of congregations outside of the establishment forced the bishops to dissociate canonical jurisdiction from royal prerogative and to reconstitute for themselves a territorial episcopate.

The Book of Common Prayer came into general use at start of the reign of William and Mary. The Scottish Communion Office, compiled by the non-jurors in accordance with primitive models, has had a varying co-ordinate authority, and the modifications of the English liturgy that would be adopted by the American Church were mainly determined by its influence.

Among the clergy of post-Revolution days the most eminent are Bishop Sage, a well-known patristic scholar; Bishop Rattray, liturgiologist; John Skinner, of Longside, author of Tullochgorum; Bishop Gleig, editor of the 3rd edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica; Dean Ramsay, author of Reminiscences of Scottish Life and Character; Bishop AP Forbes; GH Forbes, liturgiologist; and Bishop Charles Wordsworth.

From the birth of the United Kingdom

The death of Charles Stuart led to better conditions for Church growth.
The death of Charles Stuart led to better conditions for Church growth.

The act of Queen Anne (1712), which protects the Episcopal Communion, marks its virtual incorporation as a distinct society. But matters were still complicated by a considerable, though declining, number of episcopalian incumbents holding the parish churches. Moreover, the Jacobitism of the non-jurors provoked a state policy of repression in 1715 and 1745, and fostered the growth of new Hanoverian congregations, served by clergy episcopally ordained but amenable to no bishop, who qualified themselves under the act of 1712. This act was further modified in 1746 and 1748 to exclude clergymen ordained in Scotland.

These causes reduced the Episcopalians, who included at the Revolution a large section of the people, to what is now, save in a few corners of the west and north-east of Scotland, a small minority. The official recognition of George III on the death of Charles Edward Stuart in 1788, removed the chief bar to progress. The qualified congregations were gradually absorbed, though traces of this ecclesiastical solecism still linger. In 1792 the penal laws were repealed, but clerical disabilities were only finally removed in 1864. In 1784 Samuel Seabury, the first bishop of the American Episcopal Church, was consecrated at Aberdeen. Seabury had been refused consecration by the clergy in England.

The Theological College was founded in 1810, incorporated with Trinity College, Glenalmond, in 1848, and re-established at Edinburgh in 1876. Theological training is now provided by the various dioceses and is supervised by the Theological Institute of the Scottish Episcopal Church (TISEC).

In the previous 30 years, the Scottish Episcopal Church has taken a stand on various issues including economic justice, ordination of women, and inclusion.


The 2001 Census:
Religion Percentage of Population
Church of Scotland 42%
Non-Christian/None 34.7%
Roman Catholic 16%
Other Christian (including Scottish Episcopal) 7%

Members are sometimes referred to as "Piskies", as a shortened form of the name; this is not usually derogatory. The Church could boast of 356 congregations, with a total membership of 124,335, and 324 working clergy in 1900. Membership did not grow in the following decades as it was believed it would.

In 1995, the Scottish Episcopal Church began working through a process known as Mission 21. The Rev Canon Alice Mann of the Alban Institute was invited to begin developing a missionary emphasis within the congregations of the church throughout Scotland. This led to the development of the Making Your Church More Inviting programme which has now been completed by many congregations. In addition to working on making churches more inviting, Mission 21 emphasises reaching out to new populations which have previously not been contacted by the church. As Mission 21 has developed, changing patterns of ministry have become part of its remit.


As an Episcopal denomination, the church is governed by bishops (Greek, episcopoi), which differentiates it from the national Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian.


The Primus, styled The Most Revd the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, is the presiding bishop of the Scottish Episcopal Church. The current Primus is the Most Revd Idris Jones who became Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church on 16 May 2006. He was elected by the drawing of lots, the result of the election process having been tied.

The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church has the following tasks:

  • to preside at all Provincial Liturgical Functions
  • to preside at all meetings of the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church
  • to preside at all meetings of the Episcopal Synod
  • to declare and carry out the resolutions of the General Synod, the Episcopal Synod and the College of Bishops
  • to represent the Scottish Episcopal Church in its relation to all other Churches of the Anglican Communion and other Communions
  • to perform the functions and duties of Primus as specified in the Canons of the Scottish Episcopal Church
  • to correspond on behalf of the Scottish Episcopal Church with Primates, Metropolitans and the Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council.

The Primus does not have any metropolitan jurisdiction. Metropolitan responsibilities are held by the diocesan bishops. The last head of the Scottish Episcopal Church who was Primate and Metropolitan was Archbishop Ross (of St Andrews) up to his death in 1704.

Diocesan Bishops

Unlike the Church of England, the bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church are elected. The election procedure involves clergy and lay representatives of the vacant diocese voting at an Electoral Synod.

The church is composed of seven dioceses, each with its own bishop:

  • Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney — The Rt Rev Dr Robert (Bob) Gillies, consecrated 22 September 2007
  • Diocese of Argyll and the Isles — The Rt Rev Martin Shaw, consecrated 8 June 2004
  • Diocese of Brechin — The Rt Rev Dr John Mantle, consecrated 8 October 2005
  • Diocese of Edinburgh — The Rt Rev Brian Smith, installed 23 June 2001
  • Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway — The Most Rev Idris Jones, current Primus
  • Diocese of Moray, Ross and Caithness — The Rev Mark Strange, elected 2nd June 2007
  • Diocese of Saint Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane — The Rt Rev David Chillingworth, consecrated 11 March 2005

All (except Edinburgh, founded by Charles I) were pre- Reformation sees. While no existing ministry can claim regular historic continuity with the ancient hierarchy of Scotland, the bishops of the Episcopal Church are direct successors of the prelates consecrated to Scottish sees at the Restoration.

Representative bodies

The College of Bishops constitutes the episcopal synod, the supreme court of appeal. This synod elects from among its own members a presiding Bishop who has the title of Primus (the title originates from the Latin phrase Primus inter pares — 'First among equals'). The Primus has the style but not the functions of a metropolitan. The Primus is addressed Most Reverend, while all other bishops are addressed Right Reverend.

The church is governed by the General Synod. This consists of the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity. The General Synod makes canon law, administers finance and monitors the work of the boards and committees of the Church. Most decisions are arrived at by a simple majority of members of the General Synod voting together. More complex legislation, such as changes to the Code of Canons requires each of the Houses to agree and to vote in favour by a two-thirds majority.

Each diocese has its synod of the clergy and laity. Its dean (similar to an archdeacon in the Church of England) is appointed by the bishop, and, on the voidance of the see, summons the diocesan synod, at the instance of the primus, to choose a bishop. Each diocese has one or more (in the case of some united dioceses) cathedrals. The senior priest of a Scottish Episcopal cathedral is styled as provost (as the title of 'dean' is given to the senior priest of the diocese as a whole, see above). The only exception in Scotland is the Cathedral of the Isles on the island of Cumbrae which is led by a member of the clergy styled as Precentor. Diocesan deans and cathedral provosts are both addressed as Very Reverend.

Worship and liturgy

The Scottish Episcopal Church embraces three orders of ministry: deacon, priest (referred to as presbyter) and bishop. Increasingly, an emphasis is being placed on these orders working collaboratively within the wider ministry of the whole people of God.

The Book of Common Prayer

In addition to the Scottish Prayer Book 1929, the church has a number of other liturgies available to it. In recent years, revised Funeral Rites have appeared, along with liturgies for Christian Initiation (eg Baptism and Affirmation) and Marriage. The modern Eucharistic rite (1982) includes Eucharistic prayers for the various seasons in the Liturgical Year and is commonly known as "The Blue Book" - a reference to the colour of its covers. A further Eucharistic prayer is provided in the Marriage liturgy.

Doctrine and practice

The centre of teachings of the Scottish Episcopal Church is the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The basic teachings of the church, or catechism, includes:

  • Jesus Christ is fully human and fully God. He died and was resurrected from the dead.
  • Jesus provides the way of eternal life for those who believe.
  • The Old and New Testaments of the Bible were written by people "under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit". The Apocrypha are additional books that are used in Christian worship, but not for the formation of doctrine.
  • The two great and necessary sacraments are Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist
  • Other sacramental rites are confirmation, ordination, marriage, reconciliation of a penitent, and unction.
  • Belief in heaven, hell, and Jesus's return in glory.

The threefold sources of authority in Anglicanism are scripture, tradition, and reason. These three sources uphold and critique each other in a dynamic way.

This balance of scripture, tradition and reason is traced to the work of Richard Hooker, a sixteenth century apologist. In Hooker's model, scripture is the primary means of arriving at doctrine and things stated plainly in scripture are accepted as true. Issues that are ambiguous are determined by tradition, which is checked by reason.

Social issues

The Scottish Episcopal Church has been involved in Scottish politics. The Church is an opponent of nuclear weaponry. Supporting devolution, it was one of the parties involved in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which resulted in the setting up of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. The Church actively supports the work of the Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office in Edinburgh and the Society, Religion and Technology Project.

In some areas, such as human sexuality, the church has faced a struggle. All orders of ministry are open to both male and female candidates. As yet, no women have been elected to the Episcopate and thus there are no bishops who are women. Debate continues in the church as to the propriety of fully affirming the presence of lesbian and gay church members.

Ecumenical relations

Like many other Anglican churches, the Scottish Episcopal Church has entered into full communion with the Old Catholics. The Scottish Episcopal Church is also a member of the Porvoo Communion and is a member of several ecumenical bodies, including Action of Churches Together in Scotland and the World Council of Churches.

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